The New York Times' report Monday night that Hillary Clinton never used an official government e-mail address during her time as secretary of state, a possible violation of requirements for federal officials to archive their correspondence, is a perfect storm of political bad news for the soon-to-be presidential candidate.
Why? Because it reminds and reinforces for people many of the traits that they do not like in the Clintons while also suggesting a level of hubris that is very dangerous for someone who is the biggest non-incumbent frontrunner for a presidential nomination in modern political history.
Let's tackle -- point by point -- why this story is so bad for Clinton.
1. "They don't think the rules apply to them.": The idea that Clinton never had an official government e-mail address reeks of the idea that she believes that she is apart from (and above) the rules that govern those serving in government. No, Clinton isn't the first person in government to use a private e-mail but, as the Times piece suggests, she may be the first person to exclusively use one.
2. "They are surrounded by enablers.": Maybe the most amazing part of this story -- at least to me -- is that NO ONE ever took Clinton aside during her four years at State and said something like "Look, I know you mostly use your private e-mail address. But why don't we just set up an official government one, too." It's impossible to believe that everyone on the State staff thought that only using a private e-mail address was the right course of action for Clinton and that it had no possibility of backfiring on her.
3. "They're always hiding something.": It's, of course, possible that Clinton used a private e-mail account because she liked the user interface on it better than a clunkier government version or some other banal reason like that. But using an e-mail domain that is not subject to the same federal archiving rules -- yes, Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails, but who decided what e-mails to turn over and which not to? -- looks suspicious even to people who are not disinclined to take Clinton at her word. (And there are LOTS of people who are disinclined to do so.)
4. "They only think about politics.": The timing of the setup of Clinton's private e-mail account, first reported by Philip Bump in this space Monday night, is very problematic for the "nothing to see here" argument being put forward by the Clinton types. It was established on the same day that Clinton began her confirmation hearings to be secretary of state. The expiration on the domain is shortly after the 2016 election.
Could the timing be coincidental? I mean, I guess. But it's hard to see how.
5. "They never own up to anything.": The Clinton camp response has been predictable -- and not so good. (In their defense, I'm not sure there exists a good way to respond to a story like this one.) “Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told The Post. Of course, that depends on what the meaning of "appropriate" is -- and is just the sort of statement that makes people think that these people really don't get it.
Does the existence of Clinton's private e-mail at State knock her down as the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination? No. But the story -- and all of the reinforcing of negative opinions about Clinton it does -- damages her as she preps to formally announce her candidacy in the next month or so. It gives congressional Republicans more reason to push for full release of all of the e-mails she sent from that account at State. And it hands Republican prepping to take Clinton on in the 2016 general election a ready-made issue that they are already using to bash her.